They came into the league together 37 years ago as expansion teams. One of them — the team that actually owns a Super Bowl title, the Buccaneers — looks like a new-to-the-NFL franchise. The other, the Seahawks, looks like a championship favorite.
On Sunday, the winless Buccaneers make the long journey to Seattle, where the Seahawks are practically unbeatable. A tall order for anyone, especially a team in disarray.
Coach Greg Schiano, whose job security seems to diminish with every crisis in Tampa, likes taking on such obstacles despite missing three key starters: receiver Mike Williams, guard Carl Nicks and running back Doug Martin.
“It’s certainly a big challenge, whether you’re going in short-handed or full-handed, going into that building,” he said, knowing Seattle has won 11 straight at home. “Their home record is pretty impressive, especially with Russell Wilson as quarterback. We certainly have a big challenge that we’re excited about.
“We’re going out to what I think is one of the greatest venues in sports and I can’t wait for them to raise that flag and here we go. It’s going to be nuts with the (loud) crowd.”
What might be nuttier is Tampa Bay (0-7) knocking off Seattle (7-1). The Seahawks’ defense is playing at a championship level, as physical as any the league has seen in a while.
They lead the league in takeaways with 21 and have a plus-9 turnover margin. At every level of the unit is a star, from end Michael Bennett to linebacker Bobby Wagner to cornerback Richard Sherman.
“We’ve accomplished a lot at the halfway point, but we are so far away from playing the way we’re capable of playing that it’s exciting to see where we can take it,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We have to find the focus to make the very most of today, and that’s what we got to do every single day through this thing, and just keep on taking it one step at a time, and keep marching ...”
Dolphins 22, Bengals 20, OT
At Miami Gardens, Fla., Cameron Wake sacked Andy Dalton for a safety with 6:38 left in overtime, and Miami beat Cincinnati on Thursday night. Wake had three sacks, and Cincinnati (6-3) committed four turnovers that might have meant a difference of 17 points. Mike Nugent kicked a 54-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining in regulation to put the Bengals ahead, but Miami (4-4) answered with a 50-yard drive, and Caleb Sturgis made a 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to force overtime.
Also Sunday, it’s unbeaten Kansas City at Buffalo, San Diego at Washington, Indianapolis at Houston, Pittsburgh at New England, New Orleans at New York Jets, Baltimore at Cleveland, Minnesota at Dallas, Tennessee at St. Louis, Atlanta at Carolina, and Philadelphia at Oakland.
Monday night has Chicago at Green Bay.
Off this week are Denver (7-1), San Francisco (6-2), Detroit (5-3), Arizona (4-4), the New York Giants (2-6) and Jacksonville (0-8).
Tampa Bay (0-7) at Seattle (7-1)
Former teammates at North Carolina State, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Bucs QB Mike Glennon face off. Wilson started for two seasons ahead of Glennon for the Wolfpack.
“(Mike) is a guy who worked extremely hard, a guy we had so much fun competing together and just going to work together every day and just trying to learn as much as we could,” Wilson said. “I have a lot of respect for Mike. We were roommates, some funny long stories we’ve had together, and he’s just a great football player.
“I told him before the season to go win the starting job and just do what he could to be successful and never let up. He’s obviously done that. I’m happy for him.”
Kansas City (8-0) at Buffalo (3-5)
The Chiefs have a bye after this one, then play Denver. So looking beyond the Bills, who could be down to their fourth-string quarterback (rookie Jeff Tuel or newcomer Matt Flynn), seems a possibility. No way, according to linebacker Derrick Johnson:
“We’re not satisfied. Buffalo is a good team. We’re not going to overlook them at all. That’s not even a conversation.”
In the conversation is whether KC equals the best start in franchise history. The Chiefs already are the first team to go from the NFL’s worst record the previous season (2-14) to 8-0.
San Diego (4-3) at Washington (2-5)
The Chargers often struggle with cross-country trips, but they have won at Philadelphia and Jacksonville this season. They haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in 11 quarters, tying a franchise record.
Washington needs to find a way to get going quicker: It’s been outscored 67-20 in first quarters. Special teams also are a problem, but the offense has picked up as Robert Griffin III gets stronger following offseason knee surgery.
Indianapolis (5-2) at Houston (2-5)
Simply put, a Colts win makes the Texans a Lone Star long shot to challenge in a division they’ve won the past two seasons. Indy has won nine of the past 12 in the series and Andrew Luck has four TD passes, with no interceptions, in going 1-1 against Houston, where he grew up. Although Matt Schaub has recovered from an ankle injury, Case Keenum starts at quarterback for the Texans, who have the top-rated pass defense but are 28th against the run.
Chicago (4-3) at Green Bay (5-2), Monday night
The NFL’s oldest rivalry, and one of the most bitter, gets the prime-time spotlight. Josh McCown gets the start at quarterback with Jay Cutler (groin) out, and he has one of the league’s hottest receivers in Alshon Jeffery — 20 catches for 457 yards and two TDs in the past four games. Chicago will need to score to keep pace with a Green Bay offense that really has hit its stride, through the air and on the ground. Rookie RB Eddie Lacy has 395 yards rushing in his past four games, tops in the league in that span, and the Packers are willing to grind. Of course, with Aaron Rodgers chucking the ball, they don’t need to do so, and Rodgers has prospered despite having only one familiar target, Jordy Nelson, in the lineup.
Pittsburgh (2-5) at New England (6-2)
Another bitter rivalry in which, oddly, the Steelers’ best chance might come through the air, and New England’s could be on the ground. Tom Brady has struggled through the first half of the season with a group of unfamiliar and untested receivers. So the runners have stepped up, ranking 12th in yards and producing seven touchdowns rushing. Brady has thrown for only nine. Pittsburgh’s vaunted ground game ground to a halt earlier this season, and the Steelers hope rookie Le’Veon Bell will rekindle it. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown leads the AFC with 56 catches.
New Orleans (6-1) at New York Jets (4-4)
Rex vs. Rob. The Ryan twins bring their aggressive, no-holds-barred defenses into this one. Rob has vastly improved the Saints’ unit as coordinator, and Rex’s group generally has kept New York in contention, except for last week’s 49-9 debacle in Cincinnati.
“I think we are very similar, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “Our personalities, even the way we sound and everything else.
“I’m going to do the same thing, but don’t kid yourself, we will copy things from each other. We talk all the time and stuff. I know one thing, I think we probably have respect to the league as being pretty decent on defense, both of us. One thing I think, he’s going to be an outstanding head coach. I think he is a great motivator. He gets guys to play. He gets guys to believe in themselves.”
Baltimore (3-4) at Cleveland (3-5)
It’s time for the Ravens to start acting like champions. After a week off, they have back-to-back AFC North games. They have won 11 straight over the Browns, are 12-5 coming off a bye — 10-1 since 2002 — and are 5-0 under coach John Harbaugh following a bye week. The offense has been holding them back, especially a puny running game. And the Browns ranks seventh in total defense, allowing a league-low 4.54 yards per play. Ravens QB Joe Flacco’s 11 wins against the Browns without losing are the most by a starter against a single opponent since the NFL merger in 1970.
Minnesota (1-6) at Dallas (4-4)
Both teams are smarting from defeats, albeit totally different kinds of losses. The Cowboys blew a late lead with porous, non-aggressive defense in Detroit, dropping a one-pointer. Receiver Dez Bryant berated teammates on the sideline late in that game, but it was an inability to cover Calvin Johnson that hurt Dallas. Minnesota has no one who might catch 14 balls for 329 yards, but it has Adrian Peterson. The 2012 MVP has been surrounded by mediocrity or worse this season, preventing him from breaking loose. Maybe Sunday.
Tennessee (3-4) at St. Louis (3-5)
The Rams will be wearing jerseys worn in the 2000 Super Bowl, when they held on to beat the Titans. They’ll need production from backup QB Kellen Clemens to get another win over Tennessee. But they’ve found a running game thanks to rookie Zac Stacy, who had a career-best 134 yards rushing last game and was third in the NFL with 344 yards rushing in October. Off a bye, the Titans face the man who guided them to that Super Bowl, and to a 147-126 regular-season record as coach, Jeff Fisher.
Atlanta (2-5) at Carolina (4-3)
Carolina’s revival has been based on Cam Newton’s productivity — he’s beginning to perform the way he did as the league’s top offensive rookie in 2011. He has eight combined touchdowns — six passing and two rushing — and no turnovers in the past three games, all wins. The Panthers’ offense ranks first in time of possession (33:40 per game) and tied for first with most drives of five-plus minutes. Atlanta can’t match that because its running game has been nonexistent and its top receivers have been banged-up. But Harry Douglas has emerged as a reliable option for Matt Ryan.
Philadelphia (3-5) at Oakland (3-4)
Nick Foles is back in the lineup with Michael Vick hurt again. The second-year quarterback has recovered from a concussion. Philadelphia has never won in Oakland. Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor has won all three career home starts. He set a record for a touchdown run by a quarterback last week with a 93-yarder that set the tone against Pittsburgh.